Sunday, October 12, 2014

Carbonnade- Belgian Beef & Beer Stew


This weekend we had our first cold snap and while we were floating in the pool and grilling on the Big Green Egg Friday, we were snuggled inside while a chilly rain settled in Saturday morning. The weather was reminiscent of my childhood days visiting my mother's family in Belgium and it was a perfect day to prepare a stew!

While the French classic beef stew, or beef bourguignon, is made with red wine, the Belgian version known as Carbonnade au Flamandes is made with delicious Belgian beer. The result is a slightly sweet and sour stew that freezes well for quick reheating on a cold evening. Belgium has two distinct cultures- the Flemmish (Dutch relation) and the Waloons. The latter speak french and reside in the southeastern part of the country and this is where my family originated; primarily from the Liege and the Ardennes before settling in Bruxelles. One interesting note I read in a cookbook, The Food and Cooking of Belgium, by Suzanne Vandyck was that since Belgium was at the head of the spice trade in the 16th century, its cooking was far advanced than those found in neighboring France or Germany! Take that snooty Frenchies!! Poor Belgium also does not get credit for inventing the "French Fry". One of my fondest and first culinary memories is of Les Friteries, or french fry carts that dotted the city of Bruxelles. Hot, fresh frites are served with a dollop of mayonnaise and wrapped tightly in a paper cone. Perhaps I should open a few around Austin as I'm certain they would be a huge hit?

My husband is an avid beer lover, so naturally he prefers the carbonnade to the French bourguignon version. Served with rustic toast smeared in mustard and dunked in the stew alongside a Belgian ale, it is hearty and satisfying. Since I must strictly avoid gluten and wheat, I have had to adapt the recipe to use gluten free beer such as Bards, but I STRONGLY suggest using a Belgian beer such as Chimay bleu or Trappistes Rocheford. However my gluten free version is still outstanding if not quite as rich as if I'd used a traditional Belgian beer. One final note- this can be made in an hour if cooked in a pressure cooker, but I prefer low and slow for 5-7 hours in the oven at 220. It tastes better reheated the next day.

INGREDIENTS
3 pounds chuck roast cut into uniform sized 1 inch cubes, thoroughly dried with a paper towel
4 tbs butter
3 tbs flour (Or gluten free flour such as Cup 4 Cup)
1 slice thick bacon, cut into 1 inch strips
1 tbs grapeseed oil
6 cups Belgian Beer
2 cups rich beef stock
1 beef bouillon cube
1 tbs worsterchire
1 tsp red wine or sherry vinegar
1 tbs brown sugar
1 large onion cut into strips
1 large carrot cut into 1 inch chunks
1 stalk of celery
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and gently smashed with the side of a knife
2 dried bay leaf
Bouquet Garni- Several sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 sprig fresh rosemary, several sprigs fresh parsley tied with kitchen string.
Fresh pepper to taste

1.) In a large enamel Dutch Oven, melt the butter and add the onions, celery and carrot with the sugar, flour, dash of Worcestershire and a few dashes of beer. Cover and cook onions on medium low for 30 minutes to caramelize.

2.) Meanwhile in a large frying pan, melt bacon until fat renders, add grapeseed oil and when the pan is screaming hot, brown the meat, one pound at a time so as to not crowd the pan which would steam the meat instead of sear it. Sear the cubes about 3 minutes until a brown crust forms on the outside. Reserve the meat on a plate.

3.) You may want to scrape up the brown bits in between browning batches with a little beer and pour that into the onions. Just add more fresh oil to the pan before searing the next batch. This step makes a rich and flavorful base for the stew.

4.) Once meat is browned and onions have softened and started to turn golden, add meat to onions in the large pot, the rest of the beer and herb bundle plus bay leaves and bouillon cube. Cover and let it work its magic in the oven at 220 for 5-7 hours. Serve in warm bowls and sprinkle with fresh parsley and steamed potatoes or Belgian Frites (Fries).

It also goes nicely with toasted rustic bread smeared with butter and dijon mustard soaked in the stew, a fresh green salad and of course, a glass of Belgian beer! As my mother would say before tucking into a great feast, "Attaquons!!"  ATTACK!!



Makes about 6 servings

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Drunken BBQ Baked Beans

We have friends coming in town this weekend, so that means BBQ! I came up with this recipe based on the BBQ beans at Houston's restaurant and they are rich and meaty and absolutely delicious.

What makes these so good? BOURBON & BEER!!


INGREDIENTS
2 cups navy beans, soaked in water overnight. OR a can of white beans or pintos.
2 thick slices of bacon
1/4 pound ground pork
1 medium red onion, finely diced
3 tbs Bourbon
1 can lager beer
1/2 cup sweet BBQ sauce (We like Rufus Teagues, Honey Sweet) 
Serves 4

In a pot, cook bacon and ground pork until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon and pork and drain on a paper towel then add onions and bourbon and caramelize them on medium low heat about 40 minutes until sweet and soft.

Then add a bottle of lager beer and raise heat to medium high and simmer about 15 minutes to cook of alcohol. Add beans, pork, bacon and BBQ sauce and cook over low heat for an hour. These taste even better when cooked the day before and reheated in a low oven.







Friday, August 15, 2014

Ideal Protein Phase 1 Recipes

     It's not hard to tell from my blog that I LOVE cooking AND eating, and while I try to eat a well balanced, organic diet I'm constantly fighting the battle of the bulge. I work out 3-4 times a week with a fabulous and dedicated personal trainer who has become my friend, confidant and cheerleader. We were both flummoxed as to why I wasn't shedding weight. I'll tell you why: CARBS and too much RED WINE. I honestly don't want to be an over sharing sort of person, but people like me who derive reward and pleasure from food while suffering a slow metabolism face an uphill battle. Americans are getting fatter and unhealthier than ever before and I place a lot of blame on sedentary lifestyles, overly busy and stressful schedules, enormous serving portions and the constant barrage from the food and restaurant industry to eat, eat, eat. Our brains are wired to seek pleasure and reward and to prefer foods high in sugar, fat and salt (some of us are genetically predisposed to enjoy this more than others).

     Remember the size of a large coke at McDonald's back in the 80s (those of you alive then)? It was close to the size of a SMALL coke now.  Eating out was an occasional treat, but now has become the norm as our society is racing around trying to keep up with insanely packed schedules. Though I complained royally while growing up, I ate dinner with my parents every evening in the dining room with candles and relaxing music in the background. We unfurled from the day's stresses together over a thoughtfully prepared meal; a rarity in today's American society. (Ok, so as a teen I rolled my eyes a lot, instigated squabbles and couldn't wait to get back on the phone with friends ). Look around you next time you are driving- how many people do you see eating and drinking in their cars? Or walking around with gigantic sugar laden coffee drinks? That is almost unheard of in Europe.

     Recently I was dining at the Cheesecake Factory for a lunch meeting and couldn't help notice about 3/4 of the guests were overweight or obese. I remember as a child that there was typically one overweight boy or girl in my class, yet now I notice close to half the kids unloading from the school bus are pretty husky. They race right home to sit idle in front of the computer and rarely are spotted playing outside. I don't think I've seen a teenage boy in over a decade mowing a yard in my neighborhood??

     Soooooo.... I read a very interesting book that really uncovers the psychology of over eating and the obesity dilemma in America. The book The End of Overeating, was written by former FDA commissioner David Kessler and explores exactly why this has become an epidemic in America and how we can take control and stop it. We really have been taken advantage of by the food industry and this book was a major eye opener which caused me to explore pretty extreme measures to get my weight back on track. I have seen several people successfully lose weight and keep it off with the Ideal Protein diet. On a recent trip to my fabulous doctor, she informed me I looked to be on the border of becoming insulin resistant, or pre-diabetic. This was alarming and inspiring all at the same time. I need accountability to achieve success and I use it with my personal trainer, in my business and quickly realized that I needed it with my diet as well. So I chose to follow the Ideal Protein diet and confess I wasn't a huge fan of my coach the first time I met her because she is NO NONSENSE and I saw her as a sadist. Now I think she is an angel. The first few days were ROUGH and I was grumpy or "Hangry" and feeling remorseful and deprived, until day number four when I woke up feeling energetic and vibrant. That was two weeks ago and I'm down ten pounds and eight inches and have not had this much energy since I was in my early twenties. Cutting out ALL sugar and carbs has made a magnificent transformation and I hope I have the willpower to stick with this for two more months until I hit my goal weight.

     A few things I do not like about the diet is that the shakes and soups are very high in sodium and contain artificial ingredients- but I see it as temporary until my system has rid itself of the fat and I can begin to transition back into a healthy and regulated diet. As much as I love my red wine and gluten free carbs, they are not good for me, so I need to make a lifestyle change to prevent health issues down the road. As I mentioned, the first three days were pretty tough, but I kept my head in the game, faced the challenge and am reaping the rewards. I am allowed 4 cups of raw veggies (except starchy ones), 8 ounces of lean protein for dinner and the rest is shakes and soups. Kind of rough at first since my career involves wining and dining, but as they say, "Nothing tastes better than thin AND healthy". Sparkling water and celery sticks please!!

Here are a few IP dinner meals I've made that have been delicious and rewarding.

6 oz.  Grass fed, local beef patty with watercress dressed in meyer lemon and a dash of oil along with roasted cauliflower and broccoli.

Cold Water Lobster? But of course!!
I'm not going to "sugar coat" things, I'm pretty ravenous once dinner rolls around, so I don't have time to set up a shoot and make it all pretty- I need to tuck in! But this little wonder pictured above was an 8 ounce grilled lobster tail with charred, grilled brocollini and fresh lemon. Excellent!

Pan Roasted Chicken wrapped in Prosciutto

Chicken Wrapped in Prosciutto
I marinaded some chicken cutlets in Greek seasoning and lemon, wrapped in prosciutto and roasted in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. I made a pan sauce for the hubby by deglazing the pan with some brandy and chicken stock. Served it on a bed of mashed potatoes for him, but for me I had steamed broccoli and made my own mashers with half a packet of Ideal Protein potato soup mix pureed with cauliflower braised in fat free chicken stock. It was actually pretty good! I have a huge salad every night dressed with fresh lemon and one teaspoon of olive oil. I'm thankful for the Whole Foods salad bar for offering up great daily variety.

Another hearty dinner was flash grilled skirt steak marinaded in sherry vinegar, onion powder, fresh garlic and parsley with grilled veggies.

I found this interesting way to serve cauliflower on the internet. Yes, I cheated a bit by brushing the head with Greek Yogurt as dairy is forbidden, but I need to give myself a break! I steamed the cauliflower for 15 minutes then marinaded it 3 hours in Greek yogurt, 1 tsp curry powder, 1 tsp tumeric, 1 tbs onion powder and 1 tsp garlic powder and lemon juice. Grilled it indirectly at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. It was super and fed me as a side dish for 4 days.
 You could puree leftovers with the IP leek soup for a velvety smooth and rewarding lunch served with, you guessed it- a big fresh salad. IP only approves Walden Farms salad dressings and in my opinion they are disgusting. So I make my own with cider vinegar, fresh herbs, dijon, shallots and a dash of olive oil. Speaking of disgusting.... the IP Omelet powdered mix is repulsive. I cried a little when I first tasted it, the texture was foamy and unnatural, so I've "cheated" by eating 3 organic local egg whites and still lost weight. I have to draw the line somewhere and the clever little rebel Catholic school girl in me inwardly smiles :-)

Speaking of naughty... I never fancied myself one with a sweet tooth as I prefer savory foods, but let me tell you I eagerly anticipate my evening Ideal Protein pudding. Two great options to spice them up a bit:

Spicy Salted Chocolate Pudding
Blend 4 oz cold spring water with dark chocolate pudding mix, a dash of cayenne pepper, pinch of stevia and sprinkling of sea salt.

Spiced Butterscotch Pudding
Blend 4 oz cold spring water, packet of butterscotch pudding mix, pumkin pie seasoning and pinch of stevia. Sprinkle of sea salt. 

This blog has several recipes that could easily be adapted for a low carb diet such as Ideal Protein, so here's to our HEALTH!!


Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Beer Can" Chicken on the Big Green Egg

Sadly our egg got a crack in the fire box, but luckily the Big Green Egg has a lifetime warranty, so they replaced the parts free of charge. This warranted a trip to BBQ Outfitters, where we picked up the new parts and their ceramic "Sittin' Chicken" stand, which emulates beer can chicken without the bad paint chemicals leaching into my organic, happily raised, free-roaming chook. This was hands down the VERY BEST chicken we have EVER EATEN. EVER!!!!!

Glorious. Thank you sweet little chook.

Here's how it went down...

Brine the chicken in 1/4 cup fine grain sea salt, 2 quarts water, a sliced lemon, 4 bay leaves, 2 garlic cloves, 2 tbs onion powder, fresh thyme for 8 hours. Rinse. Pat dry and let it air chill in the fridge for an hour. Crack some fresh pepper all over the chicken plus some garlic and onion powder. We stuffed some sinful truffle butter under the skin of the breast for good measure.

Meanwhile, light the grill and bring it to 400 degrees.

Pour a bottle of beer in the stand (As an homage to my Belgian heritage we used a delicious Belgian beer called Blanche de Bruxelles). We added fresh rosemary, another bay leaf, a celery stick and a few sprigs fresh thyme to the beer. Stuck the stand in the chook's bum and roasted it about an hour until the skin was crisp and the chicken was cooked through. We let it rest under a tent of foil for 20 minutes before carving and reduced the remainder of the beer/chicken juice over low heat in a pot with a dash of sherry vinegar until reduced by half.

Drizzled the sauce over the chook and garnished with fresh tarragon and a fresh tomato salad. THIS is what summer is all about. 



Pugs reflecting on the perfect summer dinner and dreaming of chicken bites.
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

White Bean & Roasted Tomato Dip

Before Austin hit the map with its celebrity chefs and renowned restaurants we were literally starving for casual, yet upscale places to have a bite. While we were in college in the 90s there were a small handful of great places, but most of Austin was fraught with chain restaurants, greasy college grub joints, inferior Tex Mex and mediocre BBQ.

And then suddenly around 1997 our little college town started earning its culinary PhD. St Edward's was flanked by grubby South Congress, which was riddled with a few funky shops, prostitutes (and the senators that loved them), XX movie theaters and a sprinkling of gang bangers. And then one lucky day, Vespaio opened. Named after the den of wasps found in the walls during the demolition, Vespaio was met hungrily by the small crowd of us who envisioned a more sophisticated, but charming Austin dining scene. We dreamed of the Austin it has become (other than the traffic). And we dreamers happily waited in line for two hours to try the inventive cuisine offered to us. All these years later, she still purrs like a wizened cat among the kittens and we had the most delicious dinner there with old friends recently.

 Culotte of Beef with Bordelaise and White Truffle Risotto.

Pizza with Prosciutto, Arugula & Egg.

This recipe is inspired by the white bean dip we had on our last visit. I loath hummus- not sure why, but I do. Chickpeas just aren't my thing and I always inwardly groan when someone pops open supermarket hummus at get togethers. Blech! But this recipe is vastly different and hopefully will have you thinking of taking a break from hummus.

There are two ways to make this. Easy and fast, or slow cooked and better. I prefer the slow cooked and better method, but will share the easy and fast recipe as well.

LOW, SLOW, BETTER
2 cups cannellini dried white beans, soaked in cold water overnight. Place them in a heavy pot with a lid and add halved onion, bay leaf and cover beans with two inches of water. Cover and simmer a couple of hours until beans are tender.

While beans are cooking, cut the root of of a whole garlic bulb, drizzle with oil, wrap in foil and roast 30 minutes in a 320 degree oven. If you like them completely mushy and easy to spread on toast, then roast about 45 minutes.

Open a jar of roasted tomatoes soaked in oil- pull out a couple of them for the dip.

Once beans are cooked and garlic is roasted and squeezed from the bulb, add them in a blender with the squeeze of a lemon and a good glug of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons), some sea salt and tomatoes (I used two slivers). Blend until pureed. You could add a little water if it is really thick. Or a few dashes of good wine vinegar if you like it more acidic.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, flaky salt (like Cypress or Maldon salt) and some red pepper flakes. The dip is great with raw veggies or toasted french bread, crackers, spread on a burger. You name it.

EASY, STILL TASTY.
Drain and thoroughly rinse a can of cannellini beans, grate a small garlic clove with jarred tomatoes (or red beller pepper), squeeze in a lemon, olive oil and add some salt and puree till smooth. This will still taste great in a pinch, but not as deep in flavor as the low & slow method. And here's one more SUPER EASY way...

Many specialty or upscale grocery stores now have marinated olive bars stocked with great things like marinated beans, garlic, artichokes, peppers. Grab some, take them home and blend them with fresh lemon juice and herbs. EASY!!!

I have fallen in love with these gluten free crackers!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pot Roast with Malbec Sauce- on the Big Green Egg

Comfort food. It's like a warm hug. That's a pot roast. Add a little malbec and a reduction sauce and now you have a sophisticated version of the classic. This recipe is super easy, serves 4-5 hearty portions and freezes well for reheating after a long day.



INGREDIENTS
4 pound chuck roast
1 bottle of malbec
2.5 cups beef stock
4 bay dried leaves
6 garlic cloves, peeled & slightly smashed to release flavor
1 large carrot, sliced into large chunks
1 medium onion
1 tbs olive oil
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 tbs fresh cracked pepper

In a large ziploc bag or storage container, pour 3/4 bottle of malbec wine & 1/2 cup beef stock over roast. Add garlic cloves, bay leaves and thyme. Seal and marinate overnight in the fridge.


Ready for the Big Green Egg

We decided to cook the roast on our Big Green Egg, low and slow at 250 for 4.5 hours, but you could do the same in a dutch oven or heavy pot in your oven. Or a crockpot!

In my pot I heated up the olive oil over medium high heat and placed an onion cut in half with the cut side down to cook until golden brown and caramelized. About 12 minutes. Adjust the heat to not burn it, but make certain there is a nice browning as this adds depth of flavor to your roast. Add the carots about 8 minutes in.


Then add the roast, marinade and herbs. Cover and place in oven or on the Big Green Egg and cook about 4.5 hours until fork tender and easily shredded.

 Three hours in.... almost ready.

While there is about 45 minutes remaining before the roast is ready, I whip up mashed potatoes and make a delicious reduction sauce to drizzle over the roast.

TO MAKE THE SAUCE
over a double boiler (a pot placed over another pot filled with water), I add the remaining malbec wine and 2 cups of chicken stock and stirring often I reduce the sauce until it is reduced to a cup or is syrupy in consistency. A whisk works well and if you need to speed things up, just turn up the heat and whisk away until it's reduced, but I do it low and slow and easy for 45 minutes.

Serve the roast on a bed of mashers, with something green and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Calamari Braised in Tomatoes & Wine


My family used to go weekly to a wonderful family run restaurant on Royal Lane and Preston in Dallas called Rodolpho's. My mother would charm the owner with her Italian fluency and we always managed to get a decadent, complimentary piece of cappuccino pie on each visit. It has long since closed but I remember on one of my first visits my dad had me try Calamari Fritti. I loved it!! Then he told me it was squid and I recoiled in horror that something so "gross' could taste so fabulous. Mind you, calamari in Dallas in the late 80s was pretty exotic.

Since I've stopped eating wheat and no longer have the metabolism to process fried foods anyway, I've been searching for healthier versions of my childhood favorites. I attended a lively cooking class a few years ago with Chef Gina Stipo and she prepared the most savory and succulent calamari dish for us that is much, much healthier yet leaves the calamari swollen with flavor and tenderness. It is very easy to prepare and is incredibly cost effective. A serving for four people is around $9 TOTAL!

INGREDIENTS
6 Calamari tubes, rinsed and sliced into rings
2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 small sweet onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 cup white wine such as pinot grigio
1 can organic Whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 small, whole sprig of rosemary
1 tsp (or more) crushed red pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
Fresh chopped Italian Parsley and Fresh Basil for garnish
Sea Salt to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon and some fresh sprinkles after serving).


Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy dutch oven or skillet (not cast iron due to the acids of tomatoes and wine).

Add onions and carrot and cook, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add bay leaves, dried herbs, whole rosemary sprig, sea salt, garlic and cook about 1 minute before adding the wine. Simmer wine about 4 minutes.

Add can of tomatoes and crush with a spoon.

Add Calamari, cover and braise on low heat about one hour until calamari is tender and cooked through. I also added bay scallops the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Pour into warm bowls, squeeze with lemon, drizzle a little olive oil and garnish with fresh basil and parsley with a fresh salad and grilled rustic bread.



You could add a touch of creme before serving to add a little decadence.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Classic Cheese Soufflé- Gluten Free

Where has the time gone? I've been so busy with work and play lately that I have been relying on cooking my standards until last week when I was staring at an almost bare fridge that luckily had some left over cheeses nearing the end of their prime, plus some farm fresh eggs from the Lone Star Farmer's Market.

Ah oui, soufflé au fromage!! My mother was a champ at soufflé and her chocolate version made from Cote D'or Belgian chocolate was ethereal. Soufflé is wonderful because it has a wow factor and is the perfect way to use up cheeses and eggs and pairs perfectly with a fresh green salad.



I don't have any of my mother's soufflé recipes written down, so adapted the Julia Child recipe and it turned out perfectly. I didn't intend to even blog it, so the picture isn't so great as I snapped it quickly just before it fell. It was a marvelous mountain of pillowy fluffiness when I pulled it from the oven. I just had to snap a shot and keep it here to remind myself to add this to the rotation.

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup whole milk- heated until hot but not boiling.
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Gluten Free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder (optional, but I think it adds a savory kick)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground nutmeg
4 large room temperature egg yolks
5 large room temperature egg whites (cold eggs won't stiffen as well)
1 cup of cheese- I  used leftover Gruyere cheese, gouda and fontina (about 4 ounces total, but just using gruyere is more classic. However, any hard cheese works great and prevents waste.) 
NOTE: Want to really make your soufflé swanky? Add some chopped lobster or crab meat or sweet corn kernels and jalapeno for a Texas twist.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Butter a souffle mold (I ordered FOUR of these for our wedding registry??). Then roll the grated Parmesan cheese around to cover the interior of the mold. 
I then made a "collar" by wrapping parchment paper around the mold and securing with string. Let the paper rise about 2 inches above the mold and this will really make it rise to new heights.






Meanwhile over low heat, melt butter and don't let it brown. Stir in flour with a wooden spoon until thickened and add warm milk and spices and stir until thickened. Pour into a clean large bowl and allow it to cool until lukewarm- about 15 minutes. Then whisk in egg yolks one by one. 
Then I added the egg whites to my electric mixer with the whisk attachment, a pinch of cream of tartar (to stiffen the egg whites) and I beat them until they formed stiff peaks.
Now here's the key: You must FOLD in the egg whites, not stir them as stirring will make the egg whites deflate. And if they do? So what. Practice makes perfect and the souffle will still taste great regardless.  So, fold in half the whites to lighten the egg mixture and then gently sprinkle the cheeses and fold in the remaining egg whites. The whole process should take no longer than a minute.
Then pour the mixture into the mold and place in the middle rack of the oven and immediately lower them temperature to 375.
Do NOT open the oven for about 20 minutes! The souffle should take about 25 minutes total with slight movement in the center when you gently shake the mold.

Sprinkle some more Parmesan cheese or chopped chives on top, remove the mold and serve immediately.

Classic. Elegant. Just like my mother...

Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gluten Free Mac & Cheese Bites

Ahhhhh mac & cheese, the classic comfort food. These are a rare treat, but are so easy to make and fun to eat, not to mention they're cute!



INGREDIENTS
2 Cups Gluten Free Pasta Shells
1 cup warm whole milk
2 tbs GF flour
1.5 cup shredded Organic Italian Four Cheese Blend  (I used Horizon Organics)
about 1.5 cup Ians GF panko bread crumbs
parmesean cheese for sprinkling
2 tbs melted butter, plus butter to grease the cupcake pans

Cook the noodles until al dente, about 6 minutes. 

Then in a heavy saucepan, melt 1 tbs butter and add 2 tablespoons GF flour and stir over low heat to make a pasty roux. Slowly stir in warmed milk and cheeses until melted.

Mix the noodles with the cheese sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Chopped jalapenos add a fun little kick (or bacon, because well... you know...).

In a buttered 12 cup cupcake pan, coat the bottom of each cup with panko crumbs that have been tossed in melted butter. This will make a tasty, crunchy crust once baked.

Fill the cups with the noodles and sprinkle with more buttery panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of paprika.

Pop in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until the cups are "crispy". Serve warm with some basil or Italian parsley chiffonade.







Sunday, February 9, 2014

Loaded Baked Potato Soup- Houston's Knock Off

Happy New Year... a month late! The year is already flying by and I just realized I had no time to post last month as it started with a righteous case of the flu over New Year's eve and week followed by Austin's famous Cedar Fever and then a trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica to celebrate the hubby's birthday. This was likely my 28th visit to Jamaica, but my first time in Ocho Rios and we had a fantastic time. We stayed at the Sandal's Royal Plantation and were very impressed with the level of service and quality for an all inclusive resort. We were upgraded after a little reservation snafu and I've never had any hotel go above and beyond like that to remedy an error. We cannot wait to return. I will post a few pics at the end of this post.

But now that we are back in Austin, we've had some crazy weather this year. One day it's 70 degrees and sunny and the next the whole city has shut down due to ice storms, or it shuts down in anticipation of an ice storm that never arrives. Classic Texas weather, for sure. Yankees and the like make fun of us, but the reality is that a lot of Texans don't have the proper cars or driving skills to take on icy roads and as a result tons of accidents happen. I was driving slowly into a meeting a few weeks back, knowing sneaky black ice could be lurking, yet a foolish young guy in the opposite lane hauled passed me at 60 miles an hour, hit some ice and started to lose control. Yeah, no thanks, I will stay at home and make some SOUP.

Since I've been working on eating 5 cruciferous vegetables a day per doctor's orders, I admit my culinary adventures have been pretty boring. Roasted Brussles' sprouts, lean meat or kale salad from Whole Foods for dinner. Bah! Boring!

On a cold day, sometimes this family just wants a creamy cup of loaded baked potato soup inspired by our favorite Houston's Baked Potato soup (Now called Bartlett's in Austin). I could never figure out what the underlying hint of herb was until I searched around and found a copy cat recipe online that said they use fennel in their recipe. But of course! However, it's so subtle that my fennel averse husband even loved this soup. The copy cat recipe also calls for 5 cups of whole milk plus half and half, which explains the decadence, but I decided to tweak it a bit for health purposes and it tasted just as good if not better. Instead of baking my potatoes in the oven, I peeled and grilled them in a veggie basket on the Big Green Egg while the hubby was cooking some meats. The slight smoky flavor of the potatoes added a nice little surprise to the flavor profile that complemented the bacon terrifically. This recipe makes about 10 servings and freezes well for later use.

INGREDIENTS
4 large organic russet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 strips of bacon
2 shallots
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1.5 tsp fennel seeds (bundle them in cheesecloth with the bay leaf & thyme for easy removal)
1 tsp celery salt
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups 1% organic milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup sour cream
Shredded sharp cheddar to garnish
Chopped scallions and chives to garnish

Either bake the potatoes in the oven  for an hour then peel and scoop the insides, OR peel and dice them, drizzle with olive oil and grill them at 350 degrees in a veggie basket over charcoal for 25 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile in a large 6 quart Dutch Oven, cook bacon until cooked crispy. Set aside for later.

In bacon fat, add shallots and potatoes and saute until shallots are softened- about 5 minutes.

Then add herb bundle, milk, half and half and stock, cover and cook over medium low until the potatoes are very soft- about 40 minutes. Be sure NOT to boil as you don't want the milk to curdle. Stir occasionally.

Remove herb bundle and add the sour cream and pour it in small batches in the blender until it is creamy and smooth. Add more chicken stock if it's too thick, or if you like chunky soup, just mash the soup by hand.

Pour in very warm bowls, garnish with bacon, chives, scallions and sharp cheddar (I used a nice Irish white cheddar). Fresh cracked salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!!


Some highlights from our trip...


 Gorgeous West Beach with the restaurant grill to the right.


Lovely lunch of fresh grilled snapper and island lamb kabobs delivered right on the beach after a morning of sailing the hobies.

The stunning villa and private pool


Beautiful plate waiting for us upon our return from a day at the beach.

Birthday FEAST fit for a king! Many thanks to Oratio, Claudine and Lucian for the big surprise.

One more bite of Jerk chicken at the airport before sadly returning to the chaos that is the Houston International Airport. Won't ever fly through there again if possible. 1500 people trying to clear customs through THREE lanes. Almost everyone missed their connecting flight. All the relaxation of the prior week was instantly snapped away in a heartbeat! 

And when things get stressful I just need to close my eyes and picture myself back here...